Posted by: "Per Ardua Ad Astra" | December 29, 2010


By Sarah-Mae Thomas

I thought my days of learning German had ended when I finished my last language paper in 2006 in year 12. I was very much mistaken.

So, there was a little bit of a ‘lost in translation’ scenario two weeks ago at the office. Liechtenstein is reporting to the CEDAW this coming January. IWRAW was under the impression that we were going to get two or three people from an NGO there, coming for our Global to Local training next month. Now this impression has lasted for a good couple of months. Having every national NGO of the reporting country is very important because IWRAW facilitates oral statements and lunch briefings between the NGOs and CEDAW committee members.

But one morning much to our horror, the NGO delegation from Liechtenstein informed us that they had no such intention….

How did I of all people( the person whose last lame attempt at speaking German was ordering a sandwich in Vienna early this year), land the task of translating the organisation’s thoughts into German? Nobody else spoke the language in the office except to an Irish who had not spoken the language since 1998.

So, I was tasked with writing a letter to Liechtenstein informing them why their role was very important, not only in writing a shadow report but also lobbying the CEDAW committee at the UN sessions.

I had previously wondered why their shadow report was only two pages long when all the other country NGOs had written at least 40 pages! And why their questionnaire for the Global to Local training session mentioned that they were not comfortable in lobbying when this was the most crucial part of the Global to Local process! Little did we know that they had no intention in coming to Geneva at all.

I spent most of the day translating verbs conjugations and women’s rights issues into a somewhat understandable German script. So revisit my German dictionary and consult my German speaking friends for advice on translation I did! The next day we called up the NGO in Liechtenstein and spent a while discussing the entire process in my broken German. Fortunately, and much to my relief, I could understand her and more importantly, she could understand me.

So I am happy to report that the message was sufficiently passed on and we are now in the stage of getting a NGO representative to Geneva.


  1. I beg to differ – your German got us through several countries with far more ease that I would have been able to muster up myself!

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